Amtrak to reduce long distance trains to thrice weekly

Jun 17, 2020

According to a leaked internal memo, Amtrak plans to reduce service on all of its iconic long distance trains, including the California Zephyr, the Coast Starlight and the Empire Builder, to operate thrice weekly (replacing daily service) in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

All but two of Amtrak's trains, which cover a network including over 500 destinations in 46 states, currently operate daily. In addition to cuts planned for long distance trains, Amtrak plans to operate 32% fewer frequencies on its busy Northeast Corridor and 24% fewer services on its various state funded intercity networks.

Under the plan the California Zephyr (San Francisco to Chicago), the Coast Starlight (Los Angeles to Seattle), the Empire Builder (Seattle/Portland to Chicago), the Texas Eagle (San Antonio to Chicago), the Southwest Chief (Los Angeles to Chicago), the City of New Orleans (New Orleans to Chicago), the Lake Shore Limited (New York City to Chicago), the Crescent (New York City to New Orleans) and the Capitol Limited (Washington DC to Chicago) will all be cut to thrice-weekly operating.

Atlantic coast service will be altered to see a daily service between New York and Savannah along the route of the Silver Meteor / Palmetto and a daily service from New York to Miami operated as a combination of Silver Meteor and Silver Star trains. The Silver Meteor (New York City and Washington to Orlando and Miami) will operate four times per week and the Silver Star (New York City and Washington DC to Orlando, Tampa and Miami) will operate the remaining three days per week (providing daily service south of Savannah). North of Savannah the Palmetto will operate on days that the Silver Meteor does not. The Auto Train, which carries passengers and their cars between Lorton and Sanford will continue to operate daily.

Amtrak currently operate two trains on thrice weekly schedules - the Cardinal (New York City and Washington DC to Chicago) and the Sunset Limited (Los Angeles to New Orleans with through cars to Chicago). These trains will continue to operate on current schedules.

Amtrak Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing and Revenue Service Officer Roger Harris told employees today that Amtrak's goal is “to restore daily service on these routes as demand warrants, potentially by the summer of 2021" however there is some concern that services will never be restored with slots lost on freight railroads and given the length of the suspension (longer than any other proposed service suspension in the travel industry). Whilst long distance trains have traditionally operated daily in the United States and Europe, in Australia, Canada, Russia and other parts of the world less than daily schedules are common.

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